Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans has recorded a special video to wish happy birthday to a “totally inspirational” arts centre at a former police station.
The pioneering complex in the slate town of Blaenau Ffestiniog that’s home to host of creative, cultural and media training projects, a cinema, a café bar and a hostel for visitors, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a concert on Friday, 21 April.
The appropriately named CellB also originally housed the local magistrates’ court and the cells for prisoners.
In contrast, the centre is now freeing up the creative energy of young people from the area and teaching them new skills via projects like the Clwb Clinc sessions.
There’s also something for the older generation at the Forum Pensioners Club, named after a former cinema in Blaenau Ffestiniog, which stages monthly screenings.
Welsh rocker Rhys Roberts, who played with popular bands Anweledig and Sibrydion, came up with the idea for the centre, which is run as a not-for-profit social enterprise by Gwallgofiaid Cyf.
The inspirational initiative has captured the imagination of Rhys Ifans, who starred in The Amazing Spiderman, Kingsman and Notting Hill among other memorable movies.
He officially opened CellB’s second cinema screen in a virtual livestream event two years ago. The screen has been named after him as a gesture of appreciation for all his community youth work during the pandemic.
Praising the centre, the actor, from Ruthin, said in the video: "Very best wishes to Clwb Clinc and the Gwallgofiaid on 20 years of being totally inspirational and totally unbelievable.
“It has truly been an honour to have been a very, very small part of your journey over recent years, to have had your wonderful company in Zoom meetings during lockdown, to have been able to come up to see you and to see the work that you’re doing, to get to know you better.
“And so on, on to the next 20 years. Who knows? Perhaps in a very short space of time, we shall see your art work hanging in the world’s largest galleries, your films in our cinemas, on our televisions and DJ Callum and Pinkles on the Pyramid Stage in Glastonbury.
“And I boys, shall be in the front row, if that happens.”
Among those starring at the special gig on 21 April will be soul singer Jack Tyson Charles, jazz group Nowhere Ensemble, led by former Gwallgofiaid member Ben Tunnicliffe, and singer-songwriter Sion Roberts, also ex-Gwallgofiaid, and local band DoSS.
During the gig, a video featuring Rhys Ifans, along with several CellB graduates, including Llio Maddocks, Caryl Maculin, Tom Ayers and Sion Pennar, will be shown.
According to Rhys Roberts, the past two decades have been a "rollercoaster ride with many ups and some downs".
He said: "We had to shut down for while, then we re-opened and then came Covid when we had to shut down again.
"However during this break it became clear the work of running the cinema had taken attention away from the company's original path, which was to develop direct workshops with young people.
"We're continuing with the cinema but we are interweaving both aspects by holding arts workshops for young people and using the big screen to display the results of the projects and give a platform here to the voice and creativity of the young.
"But not only will we offer art workshops to young people in the area to acquire new skills, will also offer professional development to young local artists, showing confidence and faith in them by inviting them back to lead the workshops.”
As part of the expansion programme, experienced restaurant manager Emlyn Roberts is joining the management team.
Rhys said: "Emlyn brings years of experience from running Y Ring (the Brondanw Arms) in Llanfrothen and Tŷ Bwyta Hebog in Beddgelert to the company.
"Our main vision for the future is to provide a cinematic experience, entertainment and special modern hospitality hand in hand and a hospitality training scheme for the young people of the area. With this development Emlyn's obvious talents will come to the fore."
The main focus now is getting ready for the anniversary gig and The Pinkles are rehearsing every Tuesday night in a converted garage that once housed police cars.
The band includes Math Jones, who plays the lead guitar alongside his twin brother Twm who plays keyboards. Tomi Humphreys and Gruff Roberts keep the beat going on drums and bass while Ioan Hughes is the other guitar player.
In the garage loft, unperturbed by the sound from downstairs, Gai Toms, a folk singer who was a member of Anweledig with Rhys, was tutoring youngsters in the craft of sound-mixing.
In the main courtroom tutor Cerys Hughes was mentoring a group in art and crafts. Using old comic books as inspiration they were making their own comic strips.
Rhys added : "It's one of the most unique locations in north Wales. It was perfect. During the past 20 years we have encouraged young people to get off the streets and into music and the creative arts. It's like an artistic explosion has taken place here.”